Town of Richmond woman keeps goats after husband's death
TOWN OF RICHMOND--Susan K. Miller doesn't remember much about fall shearing the year her husband, Sam, died.
“I was in a fog,” she said. “I was going through the motions.”
In the two years since then, she has made adjustments to how Tall Grass Farm in the town of Richmond is run so she can handle most of the work with the Angora goats.
On Saturday, Susan invites people to watch goat shearing and to eat lunch provided by the cooks of the Richmond Methodist Church.
The fall fiber jubilee is a tribute to the memory of Sam. It also is an affirmation of what a woman can do with faith and a little help from her friends.
After Sam died of complications of chemotherapy in July 2011, Susan tended the couple's 33 goats with a broken heart.
“I was struggling with everything,” she recalls. “I was muddling through, but people reached out to me. My church family surrounded me. A member of my church called me every day for weeks.”
People who attended past jubilees in spring and fall encouraged her to keep the farm and to keep hosting the jubilee. Her colleagues at Mercy Options, where Susan works in Janesville as a clinical psychotherapist, offered support. Even her clients wanted to take care of her.
She reached out to friends, who helped her make hay and clean the barn.
Eventually, Susan began to feel Sam's presence and guidance about making decisions on practical things at the farm.
“I could hear him telling me to sell the bucks because I could not handle them,” she said. “Then I sold some of the does because there were too many of them.”
Today, Susan tends 18 goats, one lama and three Shetland sheep.
“I am so proud that I am able to maintain this farm with the help of friends,” she said. “Sam loved this place. He put so much work into it. Sometimes I am so tired when I come out of that barn at night, but this place grounds me. The animals, the soil, the changing of the seasons saved my sanity.”
On days when she works in Janesville, her alarm goes off at 4:20 a.m. so she can get her chores done before leaving.
“The goats are my therapy,” she said. “When I have a bad day at work, I go straight to the barn when I come home.”
Years ago, Susan didn't even know what an Angora goat was.
She and Sam lived in the San Joaquin Valley of central California. Susan was a successful business administrator who followed an inner voice that told her to study psychology and counseling. Eventually, she and Sam wanted to be closer to their daughters and first grandchild.
In August 1994, the Millers moved to Wisconsin, where they bought a five-acre farm with a rundown barn and weathered buildings. Slowly, they made improvements while working in careers off the farm. Eventually, they began raising Angora goats for their lustrous fleece, which they turned into yarn, blankets and clothing.
They felt the energy of new life when the animals had babies. They nurtured their goats and kept them healthy. Twice a year, they also sheared them.
In 1996, Sam came up with the idea of a jubilee in the spring and the fall to celebrate mohair and other natural fibers. He figured they had to shear the goats anyhow so why not make an event of it.
On the night Sam died, Susan saw a blanket of fireflies in the field across from her farm.
“I don't know whether it was Sam telling me that everything will be OK or if it was God telling me,” she said. “You can see an event like that as an ordinary thing or as a miracle.”
Susan saw it as a miracle, one of many that she has embraced as she tries to find a new normal without her husband of almost 25 years.
“I am blessed by seeing the miracles of everyday life,” she said. “That there are fireflies. That the trees grow. That the swallows return in the spring.”
A year after her husband's memorial service, Susan said, she saw Sam in a dreamlike state while she was half awake and half asleep.
“He said goodbye, which he wasn't able to do in his last hours,” she said.
The experience affirmed Susan's belief in what she calls “something bigger than all of us in the universe.” She always has had a lot of faith and doesn't know how she would have survived the loss of her husband without it.
“I had moments when I lost my direction,” she said.
“But I never considered leaving the farm. My roots are too deep.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.